Helmets are the first order of the day for campers at Avid4 Adventure day camps. That’s true whether they attend a biking, skateboarding, rock climbing, or whitewater paddling camp. “We teach kids that helmets are directly connected to the activity that we’re doing,” says Sarah Pekala, Avid’s vice president for day camps.
Helmet habits are important to instill whether at camp or in the cul-de-sac, experts say. As summer approaches and kids spend more time outdoors testing new skills, “program your kids to wear their helmets every single time,” says Susan Kirelik, a pediatric emergency physician and concussion specialist at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver.
Helmets help prevent traumatic brain injuries like skull fractures, bleeding, and bruising, says Kirelik. They’re incredibly important in many sports like biking, skiing, and snowboarding, and finding the right helmet is key. Use these tips when selecting protection for all the precious noggins in your family.
Pick Safety Over Style
Look for certification stickers when selecting the type of helmet for your child’s sport. Baseball, football, hockey, lacrosse, and skateboard helmets should meet standards from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE). Meanwhile, ski and snowboard helmets should be certified by ASTM International.
A bicycle helmet should have a label or sticker that says it meets the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standard. “As long as the helmet has the standard, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a $10 helmet or a $40 helmet,” says Maureen McCanna, education and safety director for Bicycle Colorado in Denver.
McCanna says she sometimes sees kids wearing helmets with unicorn horns, mohawks, or other toppers. They’re definitely fun, but she says they could get in the way and cause friction in the event of a crash. “Sometimes those extra appendages can prevent a helmet from doing its full job,” she says.
Helmets for myriad other sports have different standards (think equestrian and canoeing). A helpful resource for helmet standards is Which Helmet for Which Activity at cpsc.gov.
Watch New Helmet Technology
Another sticker you may see as you shop for new helmets says MIPS. “A lot of work is going on to try to produce better helmet technology,” says Kirelik. One of the new technologies in helmets for a variety of sports is called Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS). It’s a slip liner in the helmet designed to provide added protection from rotational forces, which are thought to play a larger role in concussions (see Noggin Questions below).
In the lab, Kirelik says, MIPS helmets seem to decrease rotational forces, but in the field, it’s not clear that MIPS helmets decrease the rate of concussions. So, the jury is still out. The takeaway for parents: MIPS helmets can’t hurt, but they can be more expensive—for example, a Bike Giro Scamp helmet on the company’s website is listed for $40 and the Bike Giro Scamp with MIPS is $60.
Find The Right Fit
It may sound like a no-brainer, but bring your child shopping to find the best fitting helmet. Before you shop, measure the circumference of your child’s head using a flexible tape measure wrapped all the way around their head above the eyebrows and ears.
Some kids bicycle helmets fit a range of head sizes. They’ll have a ratchet system to make the helmet more snug. For the tiniest heads of infants and toddlers, it’s often harder to find a properly fitting helmet. Look for infant and toddler models made by Giro, Schwinn, Bell, and Nutcase.
To find the right sizing, try the two-finger test. With the helmet on, put two fingers above your child’s eyebrows, right where the helmet should sit. Put two fingers in a peace sign around your child’s ear, where helmet straps should form a “Y”. Put two fingers under your child’s chin (helmet strap should rest there).
Wearing a helmet is not that different than wearing a hat on your head, says McCanna. “Helmets shouldn’t be uncomfortable if they’re properly sized and fitted,” she adds.
Know When to Replace
When it comes to bike helmets, they “should be replaced every three to five years or immediately if they were in a crash,” says McCanna. A helmet should have a date of manufacture on it when you purchase it.
Be very cautious with secondhand helmets. It’s best to buy new, says McCanna, because it’s hard to decipher a used helmet’s age or whether it was in a crash. You should also replace a snowboard, skiing, equestrian, or skateboarding helmet after a crash, according to the CDC. Lacrosse, hockey, football, and baseball helmets can be reconditioned and recertified by a licensed National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA) member, based on the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Build Good Habits
Most importantly, get kids in the helmet habit when they are young. Before they hop on a bike or set off on a scooter for the first time, start with the click of a helmet clip. It will set them on a path to safer sports for a lifetime.
Is headgear for soccer effective?
“With helmets, lab findings have not translated into a decrease in concussion rates,” says Susan Kirelik, a pediatric emergency physician at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver. However, a 2018 series of soccer headgear ratings from the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab showed that certain models were very effective in reducing head injuries, even though the soft helmets and headbands have been slow to catch on in the sport. “Soccer headbands may decrease forces transmitted to the head which likely decreases the risk of skull fracture, scalp laceration, and perhaps brain bleeds,” says Kirelik. “We do not have good clinical data to say that they decrease concussion risk and they certainly don’t eliminate concussion risk.”
Should climbers wear helmets?
“All kids climbing outside should wear climbing helmets. The helmet should fit snug and just above their eyebrows—no forehead exposed,” says Chris Hampson, director of operations of ABC Kids Climbing in Boulder. “Climbing helmets are typically designed for loose rocks falling on the climber, which wouldn’t happen in an indoor setting,” says Hampson. However, “it is such a gray area in the industry,” he adds. Families can opt for wearing helmets indoors.
What can children wear under helmets in winter?
In the winter, try a thin beanie or cap under your helmet, says McCanna. They’ll work under cycling, ski, or other helmets, too. Make sure the helmet stays secure with the added layer underneath. Every time you go from hat to hatless, readjust the helmet’s ratchet and chin strap to ensure it fits properly, she adds.
Do helmets prevent concussions?
“Unfortunately, there is not a lot of great data to support the use of helmets to prevent concussions,” says Kirelik. Helmets mitigate linear forces better than rotational forces. Injuries from linear forces move your brain back and forth in your skull; injuries from rotational forces twist your brain inside your skull, and they are thought to play a larger role in concussions. Parents should know that children can still get a concussion while wearing a helmet, says Kirelik.
Where can I find guidelines for helmets?
Check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fact sheets for helmets, or download the CDC’s Heads Up Concussion app which has a “Helmet Fit 360” feature.
Use Your Head!
When You Buy a Helmet, Make Sure it Fits
When you take your child shopping for a helmet, test the fit with these guidelines.
Wear helmet low on your forehead, two finger widths above your eyebrow.
Put two fingers under your chin, helmet strap should rest here.
Put two fingers in a peace sign around your ear, helmet straps should form a Y.
Where to Wear It:
Sit the helmet evenly between your ears and flat on your head. Tighten the chin strap and adjust the pads inside so it feels snug and secure and doesn’t move up and down or from side to side.
Right way to wear your helmet
Wrong way to wear your helmet